Exploring a Youth Leadership Project in Kinngait, the Center of Inuit Art

SeeChange team members visited the remote Nunavut hamlet of Kinngait in February 2024 to conduct follow-up meetings with participants of the 2023 TB sanatorium visit in Hamilton, and to explore ideas and partnerships for a leadership and wellness program for Inuit youth.

Written by
Carol Devine
Published on
Apr 3, 2024

Kinngait, meaning “where the hills are", is a Nunavut hamlet on Dorset Island at the tip of the southwest corner of Baffin Island. Formerly known as Cape Dorset, this global center of Inuit art reclaimed its Inuktitut name in 2019.

After participating in Inuit and Indigenous gatherings in Iqaluit in February 2024, my colleagues Naomi Tatty, See Change’s intercultural health lead from Iqaluit, SeeChange’s medical advisor for Nunavut Dr. Sumeet Sodhi, and I spent three stellar days in this remote hamlet which has fewer than 1400 residents. 

The main goal of our visit was to conduct follow-up meetings with Inuit participants in the TB Sanitorium Healing and Closure journey to Hamilton, Ontario in the summer of 2023, and to explore ideas and partnerships for a leadership and wellness program for Inuit youth -  “Guiding Youth to Thrive”, that we plan to pilot in Kinngait later this year. 

We arrived in Kinngait on a blustery, extremely cold day. From the plane, we could see the community’s snow-dusted colourful houses spread around the shoreline. We had arrived in one of Nunavut’s 25 fly-in communities. Despite its remoteness and small size, the hamlet has a remarkable history and unique impact.

Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop, Kinngait (Photo credit: Carol Devine)

It is the home of globally renowned Inuit artists, including Kinngait’s Shuvinai Ashoona. We were lucky to meet Shuvinai at the Kenojuak Cultural Centre, the oldest art studio in Canada. She was working on her prints when we toured the impressive studio with curator and Interim Executive Director of The West Baffin Cooperative, William Huffman. Inuit Art uniquely expresses the beauty of Inuit stories and the lad, and also addresses the changes to Inuit culture, society, the natural world, and more.

From left to right: William Huffman, Shuvinai Ashoona, Carol Devine, Naomi Tatty.
William Huffman shows Naomi Tatty a print by renowned Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak

At the beginning of a major snowstorm, we met with young Inuit women working as guards at the RCMP office who expressed interest in a youth project and shared their experiences with Elders who were TB Sanitorium survivors, including some of their grandparents. They had only heard a few stories of the hardships the Elders faced, and were eager to learn more in the context of today’s TB epidemic in Nunavut. The young women also shared concerns and observations about rapid changes to their land and traditions. 

Fortuitously, we learned of a significant Kinngait Sea Ice Glossary during our visit, to which Inuit Elders, hunters, and trappers have contributed. The documentation of their knowledge of sea ice and adaptation, published in 2023, is a project of the Nunavut Arctic College, McMaster University, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and others.  

The Arctic is the fastest-warming place on earth. The loss of sea ice in an area of many islands and where the community travels and hunts and traps to supplement their diets, means knowing how to understand and adapt to changing ice and weather conditions as well as animal migration patterns is essential for people’s safety, well-being and in some cases, survival.

While Kinngait inhabitants and others across Nunavut are taking action to share and document Indigenous knowledge on health, social, and climate changes, and on responses to these cascading crises, the population faces health crises similar to the rest of Nunavut. This includes disproportionately high rates of tuberculosis as well as mental health issues, exacerbated by the interrelated climate crisis.

From left to right: Carol Devine, Iola Oshoweetok (youth participant in the 2023 TB sanatorium visit to Hamilton), Sumeet Sodhi, Naomi Tatty

To co-develop a holistic youth leadership and well-being program, we will build on the learnings from past TB awareness prevention and treatment activities in Nunavut organized by SeeChange and our partners, including that understanding the past can support intergenerational healing, TB eradication, and mental health protective factors. 

The program also aims to be an opportunity for youth to learn more about sea ice changes, food sovereignty and climate adaptation from local Elders and to interact with working artists at the Kenojuak Cultural Centre. We hope that the young participants will be able to express their concerns, hopes and plans in a participatory art and multimedia project. We aim to launch the pilot youth leadership program in late 2024 in Kinngait before adapting and continuing it in other Nunavut communities.

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